Friday, 29 June 2012
Ideas of catastrophic climate change are not new nor are proposals to deal with it. In the 1950s Emmanuel Velokovsky suggested that the earth might wobble and tip at any moment because of the accumulation of polar ice not to mention dangerous planetary alignments. His theories were widely accepted and were set forth in his book, "Worlds in Collision" .
The response to Climate change reflects at any time the belief in the cause. When people thought it was the work of an angry God they chucked virgins into volcanos. When they thought it was a top heavy earth it was proposed to detonate nuclear bombs on one or the other of the poles to lighten up things at the heavy end.
In 1970 it was predicted by the Club Rome that the earth was on the cusp of a period of global cooling. But when temperatures rose it was decided by a consensus of scientists that we weren't cooling. We were warming.
The news concerning the likely causes was for a time, as variable as the climate itself. The United Nation's Committee on Climate Change was established to review the literature on the subject. The IPCC reported that it is very likely that climate change is caused by man. The mechanism by which this might happen is exceedingly complex and at this stage a debate exists. There is no debate over whether CO2 is a greenhouse gas. There is a huge debate over rates of change. The most important one is over what to do about it.
Richard Lindzen was a member of the first IPCC and is the Professor of Atmospheric Science at MIT. Of the first IPCC report he said,"it is a summary for policy makers that was not prepared by scientists."
How is a layman to judge rival claims of supposed experts? Any charismatic person can spin a persuasive argument about any subject not in the domain of the reader's personal expertise. On this point Stephen Jay Gould observed, "When I see how poorly Velokovsky uses the data I am familiar with, then I must entertain doubts about his handling of data unfamiliar to me. But what it is a person who knows neither astronomy, Egyptology , nor geology to do especially when faced with a hypotheses so intrinsically exciting and a tendency shared I suspect by all of us to root for the underdog?"
There is no shortage of charismatic people floating around today who head foundations or got elected and who make pronouncements ex cathed
Anthropogenic climate change is now generally accepted. While the precise extent of anthropogenic as opposed to changes caused by other factors is debated the political responses have sometimes been bad policy. The promotion of Bio fuels it has been said resulted in an increase in CO2.
All the hype on densification may be another example. Local governments are now rezoning for a cooler climate. If they are going to do this they should first conclusively show that increasing density will result in a net reduction of CO2. No City has done this. There is not yet a reliable model that justifies an increase in density and a radical restructuring of our society.
Planners claim that high density buildings are more sustainable in the context of CO2 emissions.
It is quite an assumption. Apartments with their common areas,elevators,lights,heat,air conditioning, and other facilities demand lots of energy.
Infill housing happens at the expense of trees and vegetation.
Planners assume that people in high rises and dense areas will not drive their cars. They will commute by transit. Vancouver's commuting patterns are changing. People live in the City and commute to work outside it. Dense urban areas are magnets. The boulevards of Paris,which has the best public transportation system in the world, are jammed with cars.
If we accept what I take to be the prevailing view of the science, the real issue is simply this: the population on earth is not sustainable. If that is so, how will it help to accept millions of people from everywhere, and dump their excrement in Georgia Straight and their CO2 in the air?
To evaluate the science is hard for a layman because science advances not by consensus. Sometimes the crazy postal worker is right and the Academy is wrong. E equals mass times the speed of light squared. When Mendelieve proposed the periodic table to the Russian Academy, its head mockingly asked whether he had considered arranging the elements in their alphabetical order.
To evaluate solutions proposed by committees is a different matter. Those are the solutions of politicians - not climatologists. There are billions to be made in the climate change industries from composting toilets to urban home windmills and from bicycles to high rises.
Don't let them try to tell you that they are endorsed by a consensus of Scientists. When a developer tells you they are in it for the principle, not the money you can be sure of one thing - its the money.
Thursday, 28 June 2012
When City council released its affordable housing report it seemed like Groundhog Day.
It never stops.
In the early 70s the City produced a report on "housing the hard to house." Then in the mid 70s a fellow named Soules went to the trouble of interviewing every politician and developer in the Vancouver region about it and published a hard cover book called the "Housing Crises."
Oh what to do! What to do?
Then Gordon Campbell got elected. These were the halcyon days when developers were kicking 80 year old grannies out of their Kerrisdale apartments as they were condominiumized. The construction of rental housing was dead in the water. Who (other than Morris Wosk) wanted to bother with complaining tenants whining to the Rentalsman?
So Mayor Campbell set up a meeting of concerned Developers. There was no end of ideas but the one that won the prize was this: Create a new company. Hand over to it 50 Million dollars of land on long term leases. Make the City's rent way down the totem poll so it starts collecting only after everyone gets paid.
The city contributed the land at an option price of ten dollars and away they went. The beauty part was that much of it would be funded by union pension funds.
Harry Rankin,Vancouver's socialist councillor,was against it. He described it as "state capitalism." He said that the state should only be involved with things that the market could not do. The market he said could build market housing.
That vote took a lot of courage because the union pension funds supported the project. Can you imagine this VISION gang or for that matter the NPA not supporting a developer?
The Company was supposed to build thousands of units. Actually with City encouragement it became a large union developer but not for city rental units. It built on some of the best land in the city package and then moved on to better things. It put up a small fraction of the expected rental units and never exercised the options on the rest. I don't know when the city started collecting rent.
For some reason politicians keep trying things that didn't work the first time. Someone does OK I guess,.
Tuesday, 19 June 2012
The idea of encouraging the installation of wind turbines in the relatively dense areas of Vancouver is probably no more idiotic than the other things done by our Council. A permit issued for one of these things could quite likely be set aside by a court.
Section 10 of the Zoning and Development Bylaw contains a grab bag full of general regulations. These regulations apply to each of the uses listed in the land use section of the bylaw. It says:
A zoning bylaw regulates the use of land. Use means the purpose for which land can be used. All things that are not expressly permitted are forbidden. The use section of the RS-5 Residential Zone for example allows a one family dwelling. (One family dwelling actually means something else but we can deal with that some other time.) It also allows
Accessory Uses customarily ancillary to any of the uses listed in this section.
There has been speculation that a developer is planning to install some kind of a wind turbine on or with a new house. The neighbours are worried about the potential noise and other impacts.
Is a wind turbine in Vancouver customarily ancillary to a single family dwelling?
The simple answer is: No
The City has adopted by resolution a bulletin which sets out certain guidelines for Wind Turbines. This is not a zoning bylaw. Zoning bylaws must be adopted by "bylaw" following a public hearing. The city has no power to adopt zoning bylaws in any way other than as permitted by the Vancouver Charter. A resolution will not do the trick. There must be a public hearing at which the public has its say. [That the councilors pay any attention to what you have to say is what is known as a legal fiction.]
It use to be that where there is an ambiguity in a zoning bylaw it was construed in favor of the taxpayer. That has changed over the years. Now it favors the Government. So, it is always possible that a court would hold that the sleight of hand involved in leaving turbines out of the listing of uses, and slipping them into the general regulations does the trick. If I were the developer though, I would not count on it. It does not pass the 'bad odor' test.
So when the City issues a permit for a wind-turbine for the house next door, and if you think there is a enough wind in Vancouver (other than at City Hall) to make the infernal contraption squeak in the night, then sue them. File a petition for judicial review against the City and Developer to quash the the permit. While you're at it, ask the court to declare that wind turbines are not a permitted accessory use. Also ask for court costs.
Saturday, 16 June 2012
Small turbines placed in areas blessed by frequent breezes can generate electricity in a reasonable breeze. People in windy areas swear by them.
I love machines. l have always thought about adding a small wind turbine to our Cabin on Nelson Island. There is plenty of wind as long as it is a westerly. It is just that they are a lot more expensive than solar collectors from Costco and, since turbines have moving parts they require service. Solar collectors are forever, or at least until an eagle drops a fish on one.
Notwithstanding the storm that took out Stanley Park a few years ago, Vancouver is on average neither a very breezy nor a very sunny City. It seems unlikely that small, roof top, wind turbines could be justified economically in an area already served by BC Hydro. Solar collectors, on the other hand are inexpensive, low maintenance, and have environmental advantages. Among these are that solar collectors do not puree' bats and finches.
According to a government of Alberta web site an average wind speed of 18 km/h is rated poor for wind turbines.
http://www1.agric.gov.ab.ca/$department/deptdocs.nsf/all/eng4456 An average 22 km/h wind speed is good. Vancouver's average wind-speed is between 11-12 km/h. ttp://www.livingin-canada.com/climate-vancouver.html
Therefore the performance should not be very good. One would hope there are better ways of investing money, such as in LED light bulbs.
Theoretically the two complement each other. Sustainable correctness dictates that we install solar collectors and tin wind mills and take the burden off soon to be over-stressed government hydro electric power. This, however, is not really about effectiveness or efficiency.
It is about fashion. Its about sustainable chic.
Home windmills in Vancouver will likely be the Cartier roof adornments of sustainability. Then over time the technology will improve in urban areas, like ours which is somewhat shy of wind, and will actually be useful. If you believe the manufacturers there may already be good systems out there. (There is one on YouTube based on 3000 year old Egyptian technology.) I would say, call me a sceptic on that score, except that the word sceptic has become associated with "denier", as in Holocaust Denier, in the new-speak of sustainability.
In the late 1940s, to have the first TV set in the neighbourhood was, in my hometown, Atlantic City, the penultimate status symbol. (The ultimate was wearing mink coats on the board walk even on warm summer nights. When it was really hot women would wear their appraisals) Neighbours who saw the antenna on the roof knew that we had a Dumont TV with a six inch screen. They would drop by to watch the test pattern.
That was before they invented programs.
To be able to show that you could buy a machine that was absolutely useless showed a noble faith in technology. All it did was produce a circular CBS pattern on the screen, but we could say that one day they would have programs. Sure enough we eventually moved into the next phase, known today as vast wasteland.
I would love to have a tin wind mill on my roof. I would sit in the yard waiting for the wind to blow. People would drive by for the educational experience of witnessing Newtons first law of motion: bodies at rest tend to stay at rest.
Sometimes it would move. What a moment that would be! The hood would swoon at the reduced carbon footprint.
The ultimate symbol of conspicuous sustainability would be to park an electric Tesla car on the roof. Not only is it powered by clean energy, but better, it couldn't go any where, thus meeting the apparent goals of our city fathers.
It is likely that City hall wants to see those of us living in over-valued homes who do not ride bikes, pass the commitment test by putting windmills on our roofs.
A better idea would be for the City, through Science World, to provide an annual prize for inventors. I bet they could get great ideas from high school students on how to generate power from waves, tides, wind, horses, baked beans and anything else.
Encouraging home owners to invest a fair amount of money in stuff that looks good and may work somewhere else, but can not be economically justified here, will in the end just turn people off. They will see it as another government screw up. It may be trendy but that fact brings to mind Marlene Dietrich's advice: Beware of trendiness. What looks good today will look ridiculous tomorrow.
Thursday, 14 June 2012
Tuesday, 12 June 2012
Tom Campbell passed away on February 3, 2012 at the age of 84. He was the Mayor of Vancouver for three terms from 1966 to 1972.
I had forgotten Tom Campbell was a lawyer. Otherwise, he was hard to forget. Campbell was no shrinking violet. He used to say, “I don’t care what the press says about me as long as they spell my name right” They got it right for his obituary and it brought back a flood of memories.
Tom Campbell ran as an independent against the NPA’s Mayor Bill Rathie (1962-1966) and won. The next time around he ran with the NPA.
In the late sixties the phrase “Generation Gap” expressed the sharp differences between those under thirty and everyone else. Tom was in his forties but no one in politics exemplified the Gap better than he.
When the hippies proceeded to occupy the lawn at the Vancouver Courthouse (now the Art Gallery) the Mayor promptly called a press conference on location. The interview, conducted by none other than Doug Collins, is posted on Wikipedia. To listen to it is to revisit the recent Occupy Vancouver Protest as it was occurring in the parallel universe of time.
Collins: Mayor Campbell. Does it not seem wrong to you that anyone should be apprehended in a public place on account of his beard?
Campbell: “I think that any lazy lout that lies down on the sidewalk and obstructs traffic should be charged with loutering… I mean loitering. I think that anybody that obstructs the rest of the decent people of Vancouver should be charged *** they [hippies] expect hospitals police protection and they shout “fuzz” when the police are around. *** They want to take everything and give nothing. They are parasites *** a scum community. They have organized and have decided to grow long hair***”
The Georgia Straight remembers Tom Campbell well. He tried, unsuccessfully to shut them down.
Campbell, called Tom Terrific by friends and foe alike, was not fettered by the chains of political correctness nor was he addicted to polls. He said what he thought - sometimes before he thought it.
Between 1969 and 1975 I worked in Vancouver’s Social Planning Department which was established during his administration. In 1970 the Yippies (Youth International Party) who were the interventionist branch of the hippies and who eventually became yuppies, announced that they were going to liberate the animals in the zoo. They would hold an impromptu Rock concert somewhere in the West End. Then they would march on the zoo and there they would bring about the Great Release of lions, tigers and bears. Oh my, it was rumored that Abby Hoffman (Nixon’s Nemesis) himself would take part.
City Hall dealt with this through the Social Planning Department by hiring Bruce Allen. Mr. Allen had just opened his offices as an impresario in Gastown. I paid him $500 to organize a rock concert East of Main Street in False Creek Park. Allen assembled many budding rock stars. News of the concert scheduled for the same time as the Great Zoo Liberation was leaked and, as hoped the Revolution was diverted to False Creek Park for the better music. The animals remained imprisoned. No one suspected that City Hall was behind it.
The next day Tom Campbell called me into his office. He acknowledged that our dirty trick was successful but wanted me to know that in his opinion one should deal with things directly. The police would have been happy to protect the zoo and it might have been better to deal with Yippies and Hippies by more orthodox means. Rock Concerts for animal liberationists was not his idea of good public policy.
The West End Community Planning process started under the Campbell administration and was completed under Mayor Art Phillips TEAM party. So did some of the City run arts programs funded by the Federal Government but run out of City Hall.
After he left office, Campbell disappeared from politics and public life. What happened was simply that the hippies and yippies became first yuppies and ultimately Campbell’s kind of decent working people: lawyers, laborers, judges, builders, brokers and bankers. For the rest of his life Tom Terrific eluded publicity in all its forms- politics, elder statesmanship, the senate and academia. He must have found that having a life, raising a family and becoming wealthy was a reasonably satisfying alternative. I ran into him in the late 80s. We had a pleasant conversation in which he mentioned his considerable real estate portfolio and his antique clock collection.
Mayor Gregor Robertson graciously pointed out on hearing of his passing that Two Bentall Centre, the Centennial Museum, the Bloedel Conservatory, HR Macmillan Planetarium and Pacific Centre were built under his watch. He oversaw the initial acquisition of some of the South Side of False Creek.
In the early sixties Vancouver was often described as a site in search of a city. When Campbell left it had started to become something more.
(This article was first published in the "The Advocate" and is reprinted with the editors kind permission.)
Monday, 11 June 2012
Under the Local Government Act, the system allows variations on siting, but the use or density in an official community plan may not be touched. Under both systems, however, spot zonings are allowed.
The Developer would ask to rezone the land to a higher density. The City would wistfully say, “We would love to but we need three new fire trucks, and many defibrillators.”
Their hearts, as pure as the driven slush, the deal would complete.
That system worked fine in other municipalities.Eventually it was expressly authorized by Local Government Act and the Vancouver Charter in the form of Community Amenity Contributions. Now City Council can leave love out of the zoning equation and focus on the public interest.
These are described in in Vancouver’s Web site as:
Community Amenity Charges by contrast are a completely ad hoc thing sometimes covering the same matters as DCCs.
It could easily, over the past two years, have amended its Development Cost Levy bylaw and the Community Plan if it felt that the it was not getting enough from developers. It could have charged them higher DCC's.
Council, Pharaoh like, has hardened its heart and indicated that they can plan all they want but the re-zonings will continue.
It produced Vancouver’s first urban core bike network. The plan and the process yielded exceptional results. Vancouver became one of the very few Cities with a livable high density core under a plan that was neighborhood based.
Friday, 8 June 2012
Thursday, 7 June 2012
No one had to communicate with anyone else. This left the planners free to plan more streets. It was said that this was part of their social planning efforts to reduce the percentage of crime on any one street.
Others said that the contractors were paying off the Commissioners or Nucky or someone.
Whatever the reason, lots of streets and road works were being built which in the depression was a good thing. But if the engineers had to make traffic direction signs without knowing from the planners where the streets were, it was predictable that signs would point to streets that did not yet exist.
The classic Monopoly board is based on the street system of Atlantic City. The inventor lived near us in Marvin Gardens. Park Place was the most expensive property on the board and was Atlantic City's equivalent to Vancouver's Shaughnessy area. Its density increased with many suites being added. Gradually it became a run down boarding house area.
Some said that this was another example of corruption. That is a pretty cynical view. I could see why this might have been accidental. It could happen for example if the planners who planned the streets did not tell the engineers who bought the lights how many streets there were. They had to predict the number of streets like the weather.
The slogan on underwear is a nice idea for Vancouver. Our old nuclear free zone slogan would work but one based on Greenest would require further thought.
Wednesday, 6 June 2012
Tuesday, 5 June 2012
Much of the paper seems to be an attempt to provide the ontological proof that the perfect dense city exists. We must all get with the program.
If you would rather hear about Parmenedes click above
Price follows in the footsteps of the Philosopher, Parmenedes, who invented reality. If Parmenedes had written the paper it would have gone like this: (A) One can imagine the perfectly dense City. (B) Now try to imagine that it doesn't exist. (C) But, if it does not exist then it wouldn't be perfect. Right? (D) Therefore, the perfect, high density city, Vancouver, exists. That is the ontological argument. If Vancouver is not quite perfectly dense it is because residents don't fully understand that what is good for the development industry is good for them and the rest of the country. Price doesn't put it exactly this way but its close enough.
If Parmenedes discovered Reality, Price transcends it. He says, at one point “Beyond the downtown pensinsula, however new forms of density were rarely greeted with enthusiasm.” and “Rarely in the past does a stable neighborhood embrace a fundamental change in its character. In the past it was imposed, as happened in the 1950's.” (underlining added)
We have to embrace density and fundamental change if we are to live up to Gordon's expectations.
No individual or neighborhood is likely to embrace a fundamental change in their character, unless they are serving time. In that case the change is insincere. Price is really saying that stable neighborhoods should have no choice but to embrace fundamental change by densification. That's how it was done four score and seven years ago. As long as it is prescribed by those who know what is best that is what must happen. Implicitly to deny density is to deny climate change which in turn results in the loss of species including barn owls and frogs and causes the retreat of glaciers all of which leads to disappointment.
The good news is that we have been embracing change for our entire history. We do not have much of a choice.
In stable neighborhoods where there has been no proper planning process, forced change will lead to trouble. The rezoning of the Marathon lands by the CPR at 25th and Arbutus Street brought 1200 people to a public hearing. Mayor Tom Campbell opened the hearing, scanned the crowd and said cheerfully, “It’s a sell out!”
Pediatric Surgeon David Hardwick, an accomplished heckler, from the back of the auditorium shouted, “Tom, it was a sell out before the hearing.” That rezoning went ahead but the NPA paid a price. It was turfed in the next election. There was a feeling that Council was lint in the pockets of developers.
Other neighborhoods like Fairview Slopes accepted more housing because they had been in transition for a while. They had been bought up by speculators and absentee landlords. I remember in the 70s when Fairview slopes was rezoned upwards to facilitate as it turned out, the construction of leaky condos. I was in the Social Planning department and attended the public hearing. We expected opposition. Someone stood up in the audience and said to council; "We all know why we are here--- lets get on with it." There was virtually no opposition. It was rezoned. Upwards.
Price says “by mid-decade as part of a strategy called Eco Density reinforcing the environmental connections with the compact city- Vancouver aimed for density that was invisible, hidden or gentle, while still meeting the challenge of growth and environment. Hence the legalization of secondary suites across the city and the introduction of lane houses, encouragement of housing along arterials and frequent transit routes.”
Gentle-fication is happening to much of the City. Owners are being taxed out of their houses. Housing stock is replaced with mega houses. There are many investor owned vacant houses. Eventually they will become apartments. Newly renovated houses are being demolished. Gordon Price is one of the drum majors.
Sunday, 3 June 2012
Today it is used to describe a chaotic situation or event where an excessive number of people are trying to accomplish a task in a complex environment.
You have been Cloister Flocked.
The result has nothing to do with the fact that the City driver was charming and had a socially responsible job. Neither did the fact that the car dealer was a complete prick. I added those things to show the importance of careful analysis. That is why the legal system is so expensive and rightly so.
Your lawyer tells you to go to court. You take his advice. You lose. You have to pay your lawyers and the City lawyer.
(Incidentally, if you are a real estate agent and the City gives you wrong zoning information the same principles apply. )
If you change your mind you will have two years to sue and watch them twitch under cross examination. After judgement and after paying your lawyer I would urge you to give the money to the Engineering department to install some new safety devices at intersections. You can even demand that as part of any settlement.
Friday, 1 June 2012
As with the current debate over what to do with our viaducts, a great online discussion took place. Many were deeply suspicious that the engineers might grind it up with their infernal machines. The pebbles would then be spread on non native, incorrect species like rabbits and raspberry bushes .
Another idea was to honour Vancouver Council by placing it on them.
Happily the Rock was moved to our own Memorial Park. The event has been preserved for the ages on YouTube: